It's a fitting honor for one of the most dynamic and loved players in Indianapolis history.
James embodied a winning spirit that took the Colts to unprecedented heights. The two words that best defined the two-time rushing champ were "fun" and "work."
He did plenty of work and had plenty of fun in Indianapolis. When asked about his time there, James replied,
I liked everything about being up there because when I played, it was fun and we won a lot of games. I don’t have one particular moment. I had a nice time there. Some of the best times in my life were in Indianapolis.
For me, I just tried to do everything the right way. You make sure that you don’t let the success become reality. If somebody sees you and they get to know you, and they don’t judge you, and then finally get to you they will say, ‘Okay this person came in. This person worked hard and this person did everything the right way.’ I didn’t be anybody else. I was just being myself.
James credited Manning with helping him develop as a player and a worker.
Peyton was real detailed, a hard worker, he outworked everybody. Peyton did everything it took to put himself into position to have success. I’m never surprised about what he’s able to accomplish because he was not only the top player in the league but he actually did everything it took to put himself in that position.
He put in hours upon hours, upon hours. Then when you would go to his house and it looked like you were back in the locker room again. That’s the stuff that kind of made you. When you start saying how much time he put into that stuff.
When it came time hang up the pads for good, James left with no regrets. He had four Pro Bowls under his belt and was 11th all-time in rushing yards, less than 100 behind Jim Brown in ninth place.
I could have continued to play. Once you stopped doing the training and you stop doing the things that it takes, that’s when you know it’s over. I had bigger things to take care of. I didn’t want to be out playing football when I had my kids and they need me more than football needed me. Let somebody else get out there. Open the door for somebody else. That spot I was using, somebody else could steal that spot that really needed it.
Done with all the hard work of playing, James is back to playing at having fun. These days, he said he spends his time in Florida, “Just having fun. All I do is have fun. Everyday I’m looking for something fun to do.”
James left Indianapolis for Arizona as a free agent following the 2005, but was given a Super Bowl ring by Jim Irsay after the Indianapolis triumph because,
It’s like family. I didn’t expect anything other than that because Mr. Irsay has always been somebody that’s been super close to us. I’ll always be a part of that team and I’ll always be a part of that family. There’s the business side of it that takes you in a different direction.
But the day that Joseph Addai was drafted and on that team, I was on the phone with him trying to get him a good grasp of the offense, trying to make sure that he understands what he has to do and I made sure that he was able to call me.
I was still a part of that team. I stayed in contact with everybody. I was just on Colts west probably.
His ring is precious to him. He joked, "I told somebody that I’ve got it valued at a million dollars right now. I’m the appraiser."
James exploded up on the NFL scene, winning the 1999 Rookie of the Year award and leading the NFL in rushing each of his first two seasons. As a member of the "Triplets," along with Manning and Marvin Harrison, James helped the Colts to four division titles and six playoff appearances in his seven seasons in Indianapolis.
The only year they missed the playoffs was 2001, when James suffered a knee injury that changed the arc of his career. While he was still a great back, he was never the same explosion and power again. Still, James credits the injury with helping to form him as a person and a player.
It worked out just the way it was supposed to work out. It gave me a great appreciation for the game. Once I got hurt, it actually took my game to another level because I understand all the phases of the game. I used to just get out there and run and play because it was so easy. It was too easy then. I didn’t think the NFL was going to be that easy.
And then all of the sudden I get hurt and then I really have to put it in a lot of work to actually get back to a certain level of play.
For James, it always came back to work. When asked about former teammates, he wanted to talk about how hard they worked. He stays close to Reggie Wayne of the Colts to this day, saying he wanted Wayne to go into the Ring of Honor next to him,
Put it right beside me, man. That’s my boy. Everywhere I’ve been, me and Reggie have been together. At the University of Miami, Reggie was right there in the audience, he was one of the people that has always been with me every step of the way...
Reggie puts in the work. Reggie don’t take no days off. Reggie is going to train. Reggie is going to do everything that it takes. And then Reggie is smart so Reggie understands what it takes to play at a high level and then he takes good care of his body. A lot of this is about taking good care of your body. Reggie has gone through that year in and year out.
James eventually moved on from Indianapolis, but always valued the fans that embraced him. He wore dreadlocks and gold teeth, but quickly found that conservative Indiana had plenty of room in its heart for a hard-working, hard-playing guy. He left Indianapolis a beloved figure, accepted for who he was.
You know coming from the Midwest, coming from South Florida, it’s totally different. Coming up and just being myself and doing what I had to do and kind of just staying out of everybody’s way, it kind of started meshing the right way. I enjoyed it. The people up there have always been nice. There are some nice people up there in Indianapolis.”
The salary cap eventually tightened around James, but he went on to help the Arizona Cardinals make the Super Bowl before retiring as a Seattle Seahawk. James carried the lessons learned in Indianapolis with him the rest of his career. He helped turned the culture in Arizona around and nearly won a ring with his second team.
When I first got there, there wasn’t a winning attitude, there wasn’t a winning approach to things. So it seems like you’re kind of out of place, I felt like I was in the wrong locker room at times. But you just continue to work. They had the talent, and then everything just started to gel and started to come together. The place turned around and turned into a pretty good team.
Whether or not James ever gets the call from Canton, he'll be immortalized forever as one of the great Colts. His name will adorn the side of a stadium he never got to play in as a Colt, but it will be in familiar territory alongside his coach, Tony Dungy, and Marvin Harrison.
James knows what it means. “That’s special to be in the same category as those two. That’s real special.”
It is special. But then again, so was James.
All quotes by James were obtained from James by the reporter.